In a setback for Massachusetts families, the Public Health Council allowed hospitals to continue participating in formula company marketing campaigns. The decision comes in the wake of an eleventh-hour shakeup in which Gov. Romney replaced three Council members who supported marketing restrictions just before the Council’s scheduled meeting today.
“We’re not surprised,” says Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist who chairs the Massachusetts breastfeeding Coalition. “Gov. Romney has gone out of his way to protect the $8 billion a year formula industry. Not only did his administration block the proposed regulation, but then the Governor resorted to replacing a third of the Public Health Council just before the meeting.” The Coalition intends to use the momentum created by the bag controversy to launch a state and national “Ban the Bags” campaign.
Romney had initially overturned a regulation in February, arguing that limits on marketing gimmicks in hospitals forced mothers to breastfeed. In fact, the regulation would have protected all new mothers from aggressive marketing tactics that use hospitals to endorse high-priced brand-name formula.
“There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that breastfeeding is good for mothers and babies,” says Dr. Alison Stuebe, a Boston obstetrician. “Despite unanimous recommendations to him from physicians and public health advocates, Romney has dismissed the facts, putting corporate profits above public health. Now, doctors, nurses and hospital administrators have an opportunity to show Massachusetts families that their expert opinion is not for sale. Formula marketing campaigns targeting new mothers do not belong in our state’s hospitals. Hospitals should market health, and nothing else.”
Public discussion about the proposed ban is already changing practice. Since the initial regulation passed on December 20, four Massachusetts hospitals have chosen to protect the doctor-patient relationship from corporate influence, removing the bags from their maternity wards, bringing the total to 11 of the states 52 maternity hospitals and birth centers, including three who serve the lowest-income patients.
Romney has been increasingly isolated in his stance: he received letters opposing the hospital distribution of commercial bags from regional chapters of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, the American Public Health Association, and the Massachusetts Public Health Association. These letters join statements from the US Surgeon General, the Government Accountability Office, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the World Health Organization, who all oppose this marketing practice.
Research shows that the bags are linked with introduction of formula, thus making it difficult for the 74% of mothers who breastfeed to follow the widely-accepted medical recommendation to give no other food or drink besides breastmilk for the first six months of life. Research also shows that feeding choice is usually made during pregnancy, not when mothers come to the hospital to give birth.” Romney may have successfully silenced opposition on his Public Health Council, but he cannot change the facts,” says Dr. Bartick.